Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was a gifted writer of poetry and fiction whose life ended all too soon. Triggered by the death of her father when she was eight years old, depression took root and led to a life of struggle. She made no pretense about the degree of her pain in her writings. Plath’s poetry is part of the “confessional movement,” frank and revelatory about her personal life and innermost thoughts.
Though she drew on her experiences and inner life in her poetry and her only published novel, The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath in some sense made herself known to her readers, but the facts of her life were somewhat altered from the literary version.
As a young woman, Plath seemed to have what it would take to succeed. She was attractive, smart, and talented. As a college student at Smith, she was well-liked. But her diaries from that time revealed something quite different — she was filled with doubts, immensely insecure, and evidently beginning to struggle with mental illness. It was while she was at Smith that she first attempted suicide.
Following a family pattern
Plath married the British poet Ted Hughes. When she separated from him, she faced the prospect of raising two young children on her own, while trying to make something of a writing career. She was also battling the conventions of the 1950s, which mandated that women put home and family first and foremost. She wanted that, but she also wanted to be a poet and a teacher, and felt pulled by opposing forces
The success of her poetry was rapid and impressive. She published The Colossus in 1960. The poetry in this collection was intense, personal, and delicately crafted. Ariel, another of her best-known collections, was published posthumously in 1965. Though the beauty of craft remains, it reveals more of the fissures and anguish growing in the poet’s psyche, and becomes more confessional.
As her depression deepened, her family and success weren’t enough to keep her from taking her own life. She was only thirty, with two small children. After her death, more of her work was released, and continues to be widely studied writings. Colossus was the only work published during her life, and her Collected Poems, edited and published by her husband Ted Hughes after her death, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982.
The Bell Jar was published in England just after her suicide in 1963 under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It was published in the U.S. under her real name in 1971. Her only novel, it is painfully autobiographical, revealing in detail the author’s struggles with mental illness.
Aside from her poetry, Sylvia Plath is known for
her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar
More about Sylvia Plath on this site
- Encountering Esther Greenwood, Plath’s Alter Ego
- Dear Literary Ladies: How can one persevere when writing pays so poorly?
- Literary Musing: Plath and Self-Doubt
- 10 of Plath’s Best-Loved Poems
- Quotes from The Bell Jar
- Plath’s Suicide Note: Death Knell, or a Cry for Help?
- The Bell Jar
- The Colossus and Other Poems
- Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
- The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
- The Collected Poems
Biographies about Sylvia Plath
Articles, News, Etc.
- Mental Health in Fiction: The Bell Jar
- For Hers is the Power and the Fury: Plath’s Ariel
- Was Plath Just a “Minor Poet”?
- Plath Collections: Hudson Review Archives
- Plath Collections: William Heinemann Ltd. Archives
- The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
- Review of Plath’s Drawings
- Seeing Plath with New Eyes
- Plath: Reflections on her Legacy
- The Best Opening Lines in Literature to Grab Your Attention
- Sylvia Plath: Did You Know?
- How Rare is Plath’s Colossus?
- 7 March (1957): Sylvia Plath to Aurelia Plath
- Plath Reads “A Birthday Present”: A Rare 1962 Recording
- More is More: Plath’s Letters
- Wilson’s take on Plath Provides Greater Detail of Younger Years
- Cooking with Plath Was Exhausting
- An Addict of Experience: Plath’s Sexual Repression and Class Struggle
- 19-Year-Old Sylvia Plath on the Transcendent Simplicity and Reverence of Nature
- The Plath Diaries – University College, Dublin
- Sylvia Plath’s Grave – St Thomas a Beckett Churchyard, Heptonstall,
West Yorkshire, England
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